I interviewed the founder and owner of a business that grew dramatically with the internet, Jonathan Schaefer. He began as a salesman in NY but wanted to further pursue his dreams of reporting to no one else other than himself, so he moved down to Georgia in the late 1980’s to begin his company.
Why start your own business?
“Mostly I wanted independence. I’ve always been an independent thinker and often do the exact opposite of what traditional “schools” teach. When I first joined the workforce, I excelled in all my positions but always felt constrained. That’s when I started to imagine myself as a sole proprietor. When I had a chance to jump out on my own, I took the risk. As long as you have a goal that can be reached by key ingredients like passion, dedication and persistence, the path should be straight forward for success.”
He was already an expert in pest control so he had the idea to start a company known as Bugspray in the early 1990’s. This company wouldn’t send out a team of “exterminators” but rather sell the product directly to consumers at a lower cost. What became huge for Bugspray was the creation of the internet.
Why did you pursue the internet?
“I knew I had a “story” to tell and I knew people would listen. This was based on the success of our walk in business and bulk mailing effort. So when I realized the potential of the internet, I knew we needed a presence. I can still recall the day after I created our first “home page” using AOL. We had little “caller id” boxes for incoming calls at the store and mid morning there was a call from a bar up in Michigan looking for some bugspray to control a roach problem. It was that day the “light bulb” I installed the night before in the form of web page “went off”.”
Staying ahead of the game was the biggest factor for Bugspray; with little things such as securing the domain name that turned out to be the most impactful in the long run. The internet allowed for a new wave of customers that would google things such as, “how to get rid of asian ladybug infestation” or “what is this brown small bug in my kitchen” with Bugspray.com showing at the top of their searches. Bugspray simply wasn’t just a website to buy product but a website containing articles on every north american bug or animal one would want to get rid of. Rather than advertising on television or other websites all Bugspray needed to do was show up at the top of page for google searches. Even if people didn’t buy the product the goal was simply to get them to think of Bugspray.com next time they needed information on a pest.
Why do you not spend money on advertising?
“Most of what we sell is being advertised already by someone else somewhere else. And if our ads were to push a product, most viewers would just find it online somewhere close to them for a dime less and buy it there. So for us, the best “advertising” we can do is accomplished when we talk to customers. This is when they come to realize “hey, this Bugspray.com company really knows their stuff”. Moving forward, they will know who to call the next time a similar problem arises.”
This proved over the years to be an effective method of business. Bugspray would continue to grow with it’s own website but also through new platforms such as Youtube and Amazon. While Youtube provided how-to videos on products customers needed help with Amazon provided new opportunities for more business. However Amazon didn’t just provide positives but brought some complications with it as well.
What Opportunities and Complications did Amazon give you?
“Amazon is the 800 lb Gorilla in the room that won’t go away so you best learn how to deal with its existence. The immediate opportunities it provides is obvious: sales without having to talk to anyone! The complications are many including inventory management, shipping cost/choices, state regulatory laws (this pertains to our industry, not everyone’s) and meeting customer expectations set by Amazon. In the Amazon world, you’re no longer your own boss.”
While amazon has put a strain on not just Bugspray but a vast majority of companies; it’s part of the rapidly changing internet. Companies need to adapt and change especially now more than ever. The moment you settle down and get comfortable is the moment everything can fall apart. The internet allows for Bugspray to be, “lot bigger than our physical location”. This is your classic “rags to riches” story and it definitely seems harder for today’s generation to achieve such success alone. After asking Jonathan some of his beliefs on how today’s generation should be successful there were mainly two components: “You need to design the path you’ll need to travel to bring your product to market and lastly, stay passionate about the process. As long as you love the process, the success will follow.”